Laurie Kay Olson
© 2011 by Laurie Kay Olson
I was born in 1903, at the beginning of a brand new century. Decades stretched ahead of me, filled with opportunity. I was on the leading edge of communication technology. I could hardly wait to get out and type my mark on the world. I was loaded with good characters.
I never knew my parents. I hear that they were a very hard working slide rule and compass, and they had a lot of help with us kids. But you know what they say, “It takes a factory.” I had barely had my first ribbon loaded when I was shipped off to Minneapolis. I had been adopted by a very nice savings and loan that wanted the very latest technology in its offices and I was it – shiny and new, just off the assembly line and still green behind the carriage return. But I was eager to please. I was there for bank statements, loan agreements, and letters. My $ key got a good workout there.
I worked with a team of young women with large pompadours and tight shirtwaists. Their fingers tickled as they worked. I talked to them all day long, but they never seemed to notice. They apparently didn’t speak Clackish. They did make soft noises I couldn’t understand. Still, I just couldn’t help talking to them when they were with me. It seemed every time they touched me I just had to speak. At night they would 4uck me under a dust cover to keep me clean and warm while they were away.
Weekends were lonely, though I would listen to the clock for hours as he told me his life story. It wasn’t much of a story since he seemed to have spent his time going around in circles, and he spoke so slowly it was tiring. I could hardly wait for Monday morning and the return of the bustle.
I stayed at the bank until 1934 when it was closed because of the Great Depression and I ended up in storage for years. I wasn’t alone. There were many of us there. No one could move. No one could speak. Eventually we were liberated from our prison. We all came out dusty and dirty and in need of a new ribbon, but we were cleaned and repaired in short order.
Before I knew what was happening I had been drafted and I was in the army. Those army clerks weren’t as gentle as those at the bank. It was hard work all day long and often late into the night. Orders, letters, requisitions, and reports passed through my keys until my platen was sore and my ribbon wore out, but I kept going. It felt good to do my patriotic duty along with everyone else. I was part of the war effort from the very first moment on December 7, 1941. I ordered supplies and ordnance. I sent men out. I brought men home. I delivered the saddest news any family can get.
When my company was deployed overseas, so was I. It was uncomfortable on the ship, being locked away in the dark, never knowing if we were going to be blown up by the Japanese. We made it though.
Life on an island was very different from the States. My time at Fort Hood didn’t give me a clue to the heat and humidity of the tropics. My keys kept sticking, no matter how well they kept me cleaned and oiled. Still we muddled through.
At long last we achieved our goal – victory in the Pacific! Everyone celebrated. It was finally time to go home. There was a flurry of new activity. Travel orders all around. My return to the states didn’t happen for several months, and then I thought I would be shipped back to the base.
It was not to be. I found myself sitting on a shelf in an army surplus store. It was depressing. I couldn’t speak. There was no one to talk to in that place. I was wedged between a helmet and a canteen. I fell into the depths of a depression from which I thought I would never recover.
One day I noticed a young woman staring at me. Her brown eyes were bright and curious. I knew that I no longer had the sparkle I used to have. She reached out and gave my name plate a rub with one finger. Yes! Pick me! Don’t leave me here alone! She turned to make her soft noises to someone else.
A few minutes later I was lifted down off the shelf by the sales clerk, a stuffy little man must have also been war surplus. The girl ran her fingers over the keys and gently pressed a couple of letters. I was in love. I had heard of love at first type, but I had never believed in it before. She could press my space bar all day.
She took me to college with her and together we happily typed term papers and letters home. We wrote poetry and short stories together. I couldn’t believe my good fortune that she was an aspiring writer. It wouldn’t just be college studies and abandonment. This was for life! Oh! And the way she set my margins!
College papers eventually gave way to recipe cards and Christmas letters. The poems and stories became fewer. There was the occasional emotional letter to the editor when it was more like the old days. I still had my place on her desk. Life was much more laid back. One day another girl sat down with me. At first she just poked at me and then. . .
The quick brown fox . . . the quick brown fox . . . the quick brown fox . . .
She was just learning to type. She also wanted to write. Juvenile poems and half-written stories were added to my repertoire. I was over 70 years old then. Dust had gathered in places where it would never be cleaned away. I kept going. She was like a daughter to me. I still loved her mother and waited anxiously for those fingers to return. Those times were becoming fewer and fewer.
Then one day it happened. I was shoved to one side and a brand new machine took my place. Sleek where I had been sturdy. Electric speed compared to my manual plodding. Once again I fell into a depression. Even the daughter seemed to forsake me. Before long I was sitting on a closet shelf, forgotten.
I had never been so lonely in my life. There wasn’t a clock here, no fellow prisoners. First one, then another year passed. But I wasn’t forgotten. One day the door opened and her hands reached for me. My love! Her hands held me for the briefest moment before they were gone again. It was the daughter’s hands I rested in now.
I was on my way to college again. There were more years of term papers, letters home and even more poems and short stories. This time there were also envelopes that I addressed to magazines all over the country. I started feeling important again. I wasn’t sending men to war, but fledgling stories and poems into the world. We were partners. After all of my experience with her species she was a strange girl. She would talk to me in her soft sounds and gently pat me occasionally. I think she was thanking me for my help.
By the time I was in my 80s I could see that it couldn’t last. She had learned well the ways of my keyboard, but it was time for another kind. She had outgrown me, electrics, and electronics. It was time for a computer now. It seemed that my time on this earth was spent. Once again I was shelved. Soon I found myself sitting in a driveway with strangers walking by, but no one seemed to want me. Was I destined at last for the great landfill I’d heard of? There to rust and die.
One man stopped and looked me over carefully before handing the daughter five dollars. He didn’t take me home but to a beautiful place where I was surrounded by others of my kind. It was clean and quiet. They called it a museum.
So after a life of working hard, I am finally retired and resting comfortably. No one presses my keys any more, but they do come by to see me from time to time. I have made it over 100 years now. If someone could find a new ribbon for me I could still work, but somehow that belongs to a much younger generation... I am content with my shelf and my life. There are so many good memories to savor as I watch the world go by.